The farm is now gloriously full with the lush foliage of high summer. It is so easy to cook this time of year when fresh new produce emerges from every corner, suggesting a meal which needs very little prep or complicated recipe. Potatoes, beans, peas, tomatoes, courgettes and various kales are now ready and willing to be enhanced by a healthy, just lifted, crop of plump garlic bulbs and a generous bunch of aromatic basil. The garlic is one of the most precious harvests on the farm which will be carefully stored to provide its much needed defences for the coming winter.
As we are constantly being introduced to new exotic Super Foods, many from as far afield as South America, with cure all claims for their magical powers, it is worth noting that we can grow one of the sturdiest and most potent vegetables here on home ground. Kale, just establishing itself, is a vegetable which comes with an impressive list of health benefits and a nutritional value that places it high on the Super Food charts. It is well documented as a defence against the usual suspects of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and cumulatively…ageing! As a rich source of vitamin C, beta- carotene (which the body converts to vitamin A), vitamin K, calcium, magnesium and potassium, Kale is a vital source for the maintenance of skin, bone, hair and eyes.
Kale’s upright elegance needs relatively little space, particularly the Tuscan variety, is very easy to grow and its handsome leaves are an attractive addition to any small garden ;I have, in the past, grown a few different varieties in a small city garden where they stood comfortably among the border flowers. The more common curly kale will spread its frilly canopy of leaves, like miniature trees and require a bit more space to branch out, so two or three plants will be ample if your garden space is limited. The Tuscan kale, Cavalo Nero, needs less elbow room and its dark crepe leaves are much loved by the Italians for their versatility and are now gladly more available here. The Red Russian variety, known here as Ragged Jack, withstands the rigours of our harsher winters and provides a welcome green/purple leaf throughout the’ hungry gap ’and a rainbow of colour as it matures and sprouts its yellow flower.
For the best nutritional results it is advised to simply steam the leaves of kale after stripping them from their stems and use them dressed , or not, in a seasoning of your choice. The fibrous spines can be tough to digest but the spring and summer stems are very good if chopped and braised slowly in oil or butter with garlic to have as a tasty side dish.
The most surprising revelation of Kale is the delicate result of ‘crisping’ which I confess was a trend I resisted until recently; the robust leaves didn’t suggest much in the line of snacking that didn’t fill me with apathy. Strip the dried leaves of curly kale from their stems and tear into roughly even sized pieces. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil, just enough to massage the leaves thoroughly with your hands and spread over a baking tray. Bake in an oven at about 150 degrees c. Watch carefully and rearrange so they don’t brown. Reduce the heat if they tend to burn at the edges. It should take 10 or 15 minutes, depending on your oven. Turn off the heat, open the oven door and allow to cool. I tossed them in Gomasio (toasted sesame seeds and salt) but you can experiment with seasoning. Some recipes suggest seasoning before baking but this method worked well. Try Moroccan Ras El Hanout, chilli or any spice of your choice. Start simple and then experiment; these light, crispy delights can be eaten as a snack, used as a garnish or crumbled over a salad for an interesting texture. They store really well in an air tight container.
Kale is a very rewarding plant to grow and sometimes you will discover that the hungry caterpillar also considers it a delicacy. These will need to be dealt with by removing them and their eggs manually. There is a succinct and pertinent article by Fionnuala Fallon in the Irish Times; Saturday, July 22 which will talk you through some non toxic methods of dealing with these and other unwanted guests in the garden.
While discussing the cabbage white butterfly and the havoc they can cause to brassicas, Eileen directed me to this poem you might remember from school….
Flying Crooked, by Robert Graves
The butterfly, a cabbage-white,
(His honest idiocy of flight)
Will never now, it is too late,
Master the art of flying straight,
Yet has-who knows as well as I?-
A Just sense of how not to fly:
He lurches here and here by guess
And God and hope and hopelessness.
Even the acrobatic swift
Has not his flying-crooked gift.